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Friday, January 15, 2016

Somali orphans' journey to freedom from Saudi Arabia ends in Winnipeg

Winnipeg Sun - An incredible struggle to survive for 10 orphans and their infant niece came to a heartwarming conclusion Thursday night at Richardson International Airport.

An incredible struggle to survive for 10 orphans and their infant niece came to a heartwarming conclusion Thursday night at Richardson International Airport.

The eldest of the siblings, a 17-year-old male who arrived in Winnipeg in October 2014, never thought he’d see his six sisters and four brothers again after leaving them behind without legal status in Saudi Arabia.

“I can’t believe it. I told them that maybe I don’t see you again,” said the teen, who is a ward of Child and Family Services and can’t be named.

The Somali refugees, who ranges in age from 8-16 and includes the 18-month-old daughter of the eldest girl, were brought to Winnipeg by their sponsors, Hospitality House Refugee Ministry, and for the time being will stay in its residence with the assistance of a foster mother from the local Somali community.

They were born in Saudi Arabia, where their father worked at the Somali consulate in Jeddah. With their mother having died of cancer earlier, their lives were thrown into turmoil when he died of complications from diabetes in 2011, Karin Gordon, the executive director of settlement at Hospitality House said at the airport.

Without legal status and their documentation confiscated, they were under constant threat of deportation to Somali, where survival would be unlikely because of civil anarchy and because they don’t speak the language. Two half-brothers who came to Saudi Arabia to assist with the kids when the mother died went back to Mogadishu after the father died and were shot dead by squatters at the front door of the family home, Gordon said.

The siblings were forced to hide for months before they could surreptitiously depart for Canada.

“It’s so sad,” the eldest brother said. “Every day is dangerous in Saudi Arabia. They’re not safe there. But if they go (to Somalia), they will be killed.”

Family friends helped raise money and the eldest children took what work they could find to support the family. One was doing housework for a Saudi family and was raped and impregnated, Gordon said. She was given money which was used to fly the eldest male to Los Angeles with a fake passport and student visa.

From there he took buses up the coast and across to Minneapolis before managing a ride to the Canadian border. The “amazing young man”, 16 at the time, walked to Winnipeg from Emerson and made a successful asylum claim.

In March, his CFS worker came to Hospitality House “to beg us to try and sponsor his siblings.”

“He was breaking down and crying every day in school because of what had happened and the danger all his siblings were in,” Gordon said.

She said the Canadian government was “absolutely spectacular” in expediting exit visas for the children and fast-tracking the sponsorship process at home.

After finally seeing his siblings again, the eldest brother had to deal with a physics exam on Friday. After surviving a nightmare, his dream is to become a mechanical engineer.

“Keep your heart and your mind open to refugees,” Gordon asked. “It doesn’t really matter where they come from. If they’re fortunate enough to arrive here safely and alive, then they deserve every break. And they’re going to add to the Canadian fabric.”

Hospitality House is seeking financial assistance to help with the orphans. Gordon estimates costs for the first year of about $25,000. They’ve set up a Go Fund Me page at gofundme.com/t7kxrsng